Wednesday, May 22, 2013

In the Kitchen: Ham and Broccoli Shells with Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce

I've been hoarding recipes. I know, it's so selfish of me. My husband teases that I never learned to share because I was an only child, but what does he know. He is a boy, after all.

In all honestly, I've been trying to wait (impatiently) until I was out of my dark, poorly lit apartment kitchen and into my new, bright airy naturally lit kitchen so the photos could actually look appetizing, but it's just taking too long!

Since we're stuck here, packed and ready to go, with nothing else to do for the next three weeks, I thought I would put the time to good use and do a little much-overdo blogging! So, allow me to apologize for the ugly photos you are about to see, but I promise the deliciousness of the recipe will make up for it all.

This is one of those you-can-use-cauliflower-for-anything kinda recipes. Are you into those? You know, cauliflower rice, cauliflower tortillas. It seems to be the new world's most versatile food, but I might just be behind on the times as I usually am!

The sauce for this easy, oven-baked casserole is made rich and creamy without having to use tons of cream, sticks of butter or tubs of cheese, but by using pureed cauliflower. I personally guarantee (should I create my own seal of approval?!) that no one (especially your kids!) would ever guess what it is made out of.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 head cauliflower, chopped
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/2 large white onion, chopped
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper
4 teaspoons flour
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces pecorino or romano cheese, grated
1/2 lb pasta shells
1/2 - 1lb ham, chopped
1 - 2 bunches broccoli, cut into florets 

Preheat oven to 400°. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add cauliflower, garlic, onion, salt and pepper and cook until slightly softened, about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle with flour, stirring to coat, then add milk and slowly bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently until cauliflower is very soft, about 15 minutes. Be sure to heat slowly and stir often to avoid burning the milk on the bottom of the pan.

Remove from heat and stir in the nutmeg (don't leave this out!) and half the cheese. Puree until smooth in the pot with an immersion blender, or carefully transfer to a blender or food processor.

In the meantime while preparing the cauliflower sauce, cook the pasta until slightly tender but not fully cooked, about 5 minutes. Mix the pasta, ham and broccoli in a large deep casserole dish. I use about one full pound of ham cut into bite sized cubes and two good sized bunches of broccoli. 

Pour the sauce over top and stir gently to mix evenly. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake until bubbly, 20 - 30 min. Broil for 2 -3 minutes to brown top and let stand for 5 - 10 minutes before serving.

As I make it, this dish will easily feed six people (with a side dish) or a family of two to four at least twice. We have it with a side salad, if I'm feeling healthy, or cheesy garlic bread, if not :)

Though I have yet to try either, I see no problem with making this ahead and leaving it in the fridge for a day/overnight or freezing before baking.


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